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On Trust and Editors


Nearing the end of book three of my trilogy, I have a couple of quandries. One is around the motivation of why a central character takes the action they do. The action is set – either motivation upholds it – but the reasoning behind it isn’t. One establishes a character who is focused and makes a decision, one someone who is closer to their emotional reasoning than their optimisation.

My other quandry is a straightforward one – have I built enough to explain why a character (another one, behave characters!) acts the way they do. Or, have I built too much? (I do have a nasty habit of sledgehammering information, when my reader might quite like to join the dots themselves.)

In both cases, I’m not in a tizzy this time – I have been other times. Why not? Well, it’s fairly straightforward. I have an editor who will come at this manuscript with fresh eyes. At no point in the editorial partnership has Teresa asked what happens at the end of the trilogy. When I wrote book one and she questioned the ending (as others have done since), the temptation was for me to explain what it built and why. Gently, it wasn’t encouraged and now – I think – I understand why.

Someone has to see if the darned thing works in the wild. Someone has to read it with fresh, and critical eyes, and decide if I’ve left questions where there shouldn’t be any. That person cannot be me.

I am too close. I know too much about what the story is. I have a clear point in mind that I’m trying to get to. I can’t, frankly, see the wood for the trees. That isn’t to say I’m a bad self-editor. With a bit of time and space, I’m not. I can pick up a clunky sentence, or a repeated word (mostly, the odd one gets through – but see later). I can even see when a character doesn’t join their thinking together, or the little continuity things that get past up during that first whizz of writing. What I can never do is see it with fresh eyes.

One thing that changed when I became published is that editorial relationship. Abendau is my world, yes, the words are mine. I typed them all. But, it’s more than just my world. Teresa’s name is in the acknowledgements as the editor, and listed on Amazon. Her name is on that book just as surely as mine is and, when people check out an editor’s credentials, they will look at what that editor has worked on. Suddenly, instead of it being an exercise in advice – as my first, developmental, edit was – it’s a professional relationship.

Since Teresa trusts me enough to allow things to stand if I say, hand on heart, ‘this is going somewhere’, so I must trust her back. If she tells me my characters need more gravitas in their speech, gravitas they get. If she tells me a theme springs out of nowhere I don’t go ‘but, but, but… I built that in chapter three’ – I accept I didn’t build it well enough.

Which is why I’m not stressing so much on this book. If I’ve got it heinously wrong, I’ll be advised so and given the chance to fix it. If I have something I’m not quite sure of I can wait for it to bounce back to me and then check.

It even extends to punctuation. Now, I try to hand in a reasonably clean manuscript – I like my copy editor, Sam Primeau, and would like to remain on good terms – but no one can hand in perfection. Sometimes I will look at a sentence and wonder if I have it just right. Now, instead of obsessing about it and fixing it ten times, I’ll leave it. If I’m very on the fence, I might even leave a little comment in the final manuscript. But, essentially, it’s not my call (or it is, since I do the tedious job of reviewing changes and deciding whether to accept them or not, but since 99/100 get the okay, it’s mostly Sam’s decision.)

That teamwork has built over the trilogy as we start to know each other’s strengths. I know, quite quickly now, what Teresa wants – and I think she knows that I can generally revise things without too much guidance. It’s been a real pleasure, so much so that I’m actually looking forwards to handing the manuscript in and seeing what will need done to shape it into the book that will, come the autumn, hit the shelves.

More about the Abendau trilogy can be found via Jo’s Amazon page: